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Letter to Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office

Senator John Ensign this week introduced an amendment to the Small Business Innovation Research bill that restores transparency to Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) payments and sent a bicameral letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that the agency survey claims for EAJA payments.

"We need to restore transparency and oversight in EAJA payments to ensure that we have an accurate account of where taxpayer dollars are going and why," said Ensign. "Seemingly endless litigation and lax reporting requirements have turned EAJA into a cash farm footed by taxpayer dollars. My legislation will help give Congress the necessary tools to halt the gross amount of unnecessary spending stemming from EAJA that has resulted in thousands of jobs lost in the past 15 years. We need to start making tough decisions when it comes to spending and balancing the federal budget, which is why now it is more important than ever to have transparency of federal funds."

Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), John McCain (R-AZ), David Vitter (R-LA), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined Senator Ensign in cosponsoring the CLEAR Oversight Act to reinstate tracking and reporting requirements of EAJA payments under the Department of Justice.

March 17, 2011

The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General
Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

We write to request that the Government Accountability Office examine the extent to which data are available on payments under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) at the Departments of Interior and Agriculture for fiscal years 2000-2010 - who has made claims for payment, which of these claims were paid, and how much was paid for each approved claim.

EAJA was established by Congress to ensure that individuals, small business or public interest groups with limited financial capacity could seek judicial redress from unreasonable government actions. EAJA allows plaintiffs to seek reimbursement from the federal government for attorneys' fees related to the case brought against the government itself.

In 1998, GAO reported on payments under the EAJA across the federal government for fiscal years 1982 through 1994. In 1995, the requirement that federal agencies report on EAJA claims and payments was statutorily rescinded. There has been no official accounting of EAJA payments since. In our request letter of March 24, 2010, we requested that GAO provide a government-wide report on EAJA payments between 1994 and the present. After discussing the methodological challenges of obtaining such information, we are amending our request to narrow the focus of GAO's review to the Departments of Interior and Agriculture. Neither of these Departments reported any claims for payment for fiscal years 1982-1994. However, recent media articles have indicted that the number of EAJA claims and payments by these agencies has been growing in recent years due to litigation involving these agencies.

We are requesting that GAO begin this work as soon as possible. The contact for this request is Otto Mucklo with Senator John Ensign (224-6244) and Pete Obermueller with Representative Cynthia Lummis (225-2311).

Thank you for your attention to this request, and we look forward to your report.

Sincerely,

Senator John Ensign
Representative Cynthia M. Lummis
Senator John Barrasso, M.D.
Representative Rob Bishop
Senator John McCain
Representative Michael K. Simpson
Senator David Vitter
Representative Frank D. Lucas
Senator Michael B. Enzi
Senator Lisa Murkowski


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